Beware Formal Tics In Writing

Was giving a friend some writing feedback, and realized there’s a simple name for what most new writers struggle with: a formal tic.

It begins in school, where we’re conditioned to write for examiners. We’re artificially incentivized to use big words and elaborate sentences. And we continue to write for imaginary examiners long after we’ve graduated.

Some people do this reflexively, because they worry they won’t be taken seriously.

Others do this deliberately, to intimidate readers into submission.

And sometimes we’re plain lazy, using multiple words (“I’m intrigued and fascinated…”) because choosing the most appropriate word can be hard work.

In all cases, it can become a habit that’s hard to shake. It gets even harder if you fall into the trap of deciding that overwrought words are your “style” or “voice”.

It takes some guts to keep things simple. But that’s the price you’ve got to pay if you’re serious about writing better.

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